How does Well’s present religion in the ‘War of the Worlds’ novel and what is the significance of this?
The War of the Worlds was written in 1898 by HG Wells. It was written in the Victorian era. At this time, many people were questioning religion and exploring atheist ideas. Wells himself was an atheist and a socialist, so he had strong ideologies and many opinions on religious beliefs; especially with Christianity and Judaism. In the novel the main character is the Narrator who isn’t completely atheist in his beliefs. If he were, the storyline might not have appealed to the reader as it would have been too controversial at the time it was written.
The novel is classified as a Science-Fiction story with a strong reference to religion and philosophies. Although religion provides people with the knowledge and comfort that someone, i. e. God, is always watching them, in The War of the Worlds religion drove people insane. A church, a place of safety and worship, was one of the first buildings to be destroyed by the Martian attack. As a result chaos ensued this indicated a loss of faith. Darwinism is used to portray the scientific point of view in the novel.
Darwin was a scientist in the 19th Century and put forward the theory of Natural Selection of The Species in his 1859 book ‘Origin of the Species’. His theory was based upon the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ which suggested of all the plants and animals, those with the best ‘design’ would out-compete or survive those of weaker designs. Darwin was making a point that those animals and plants that are stronger would be able to survive changing environmental conditions. He also suggested the stronger species, as predators could prey upon weaker species.
However in the Bible, we are told that with faith, the weaker are able to defeat any stronger enemy. This is true in The War of the Worlds where the smallest and possibly weakest life form, bacteria, killed off the more powerful and larger Martians. This shows Wells isn’t completely against religion and can accept some religious views. In the Bible the Sermon on the Mount states “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. ” (Matthew 5:5) Meekness could mean mild, weak or gentle which could aptly describe the bacteria.
Bacteria don’t come across as strong organisms but they manage to defeat the Martians. In this way Wells follows the philosophies laid down in the Bible. The artilleryman is a character that Wells uses to show Darwin’s theory. This is mainly because the artilleryman (who is slightly insane and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder) plans to create a super-human race to defeat the Martian attack. He purports the idea that the strongest humans will survive and build a future society underground where they will adapt to new environmental conditions.
However crazy this idea sounds, it has some science to back it up as Darwin believed that there is natural selection, so the species will evolve to become stronger and evolve new ways to adapt to changing conditions. “We have to invent a sort of life where men can live and breed. ” Wells uses one character to represent religion, the curate who was training to be a priest. When the church was destroyed by the Martian’s heat-ray, he soon falls apart and believes he has committed sins and that God is angry with him. “Everything gone – everything destroyed… The end.
The great and terrible day of the Lord” This shows Wells’ criticism towards religion; he believes it is a product of society that creates the feelings of guilt. Another criticism can be found later in the same scene where flames in the distance seem to distract the curate when the narrator first meets him. The narrator wants water but the curate is focused on the fire, which symbolizes hell and eternal punishment. However, the narrator is in search for water which represents life. In this portrayal Wells demonstrates that religion ignores the concerns in life but focuses on only the afterlife.
The curate is made out to be a stereotypical priest. As soon as the church is destroyed he becomes scared and weak. “Face was a fair… flaxen curls on his low forehead… eyes were rather large, pale blue. ” This gives us the impression he is a feeble, plain and bland man because his appearance is pale and manner withdrawn. The curate does not look or act as though he has enough strength to lead the people through the Martian attack, and he is meant to represent the omnipotent God. The curate has many emotional outbursts and isn’t helpful. Woe! Woe! Woe!… it is just, O God!… my God what folly? ” Wells uses this to show that religion has nothing practical or useful to offer. At times when the narrator tried to reason with the curate, a debate between science and religion was manifested for the reader to come to his own opinion. However, it is obvious that Wells favours science, not because of his lack of belief but because he saw problems in the practice of religion.
The curate is seen staring into the distance as if trying to contact God for help, but he gets no reply. And blankly staring. ” This shows that religion isn’t always the answer and doesn’t always help in times of need. Towards the end of the novel, the narrator becomes desperate. “I had uttered prayers… fetish prayers” He turns to praying, which is his last resort. Wells is making a controversial statement that when humanity is afraid they turn to religion as it gives them hope. When people are scared they will believe anything, and religion claims to give them a second life which would appeal to the people in the novel as their life was under threat.
The narrator mentions that God is dark and mysterious “the darkness of God”. though, most people would describe his as “the Light”. In some cases religious followers say God shows them the light and in many stories heaven is described as being illuminated. As He is being described as dark it shows that God can no longer guide His people and He has let them down. Religion is threatened when the people of Surrey find out there are other life forms besides themselves and the known animal kingdom.
An obvious conclusion to come to is that these Martians are superior to the human race and therefore should be closer to God. In order to communicate with the Martians, the curate walked towards the extra-terrestrials and recited Bible verses. However his attempt failed and he was attacked by the heat ray. HG Wells was attempting to rationalize religion and science in the novel. The aliens’ visitation from Mars questions the religious beliefs, that Man on Earth is the only significant presence in the universe.
The existence of beings from other planets can be more readily accepted scientifically than through religious teachings. In the novel, HG Wells shows that even the smallest creatures on Earth, the bacteria can overcome the powerful forces of the enormous Martians despite the curate’s many attempts through prayer. This demonstrates the supremacy of science over the authority of God and religion. However it does show that there will always be controversial opinions on this matter.